On the 29th day of April in 2011, over two billion people — one third of the world’s population — watched Catherine Middleton marry the Duke of Cambridge. Among the uncaring four billion, though, I spent the day counting the hours to the opening of Michigan’s 2011 trout season. For the two-hundred eleven days since the season closed on the first day of October in 2010, trout had been swimming unharassed in over 1,400 of Michigan’s lakes and streams. On the 30th day of April, however, another trout season would begin with an army of anglers casting a barrage of worms, spinners, streamers, and flies upon most of those waters.
My arsenal for this season would include the usual assortment of essentials: rods, reels, flies, waders, nets, and the latest in ‘must have’ accessories. But this year I would be fishing for more than trout, so I also stocked the fish truck with a substantial collection of topographic maps, plat books, notebooks, and cameras. I planned to use these tools to document the madness and rediscover the magic that John Voelker and Robert Kelley had chronicled through their essays and photographs in the 1964 book Anatomy of a Fisherman. Nearly 50 years later, I wanted to know if the magic was still there.
My plan was set. I would explore the roads, bogs, ponds, creeks, and rivers that are scattered throughout the land that Mr. Voelker described as “a forgotten region which was virtually ignored in the westward surge of population.” Indeed. Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has a population of roughly 300,000 people dispersed over about 16,500 square miles. If the Upper Peninsula was a city it would rank as the 62nd largest in the United States: slightly smaller than Riverside, California and slightly larger than Cincinnati, Ohio. Its population density of about 18 people per square mile would pale in comparison to the 26,000 per square mile in New York City, and be nearly ten times smaller than that for Anchorage, Alaska.
My adventure began early on the afternoon of the First Day. Commencement for my university also happened on the last Saturday of April, so I spent my morning tending to the pomp and circumstance that would endow the world with another eager class of engineering talent. Then I was off to navigate the roads less traveled.
But the sunshine was harsh, and the leaves had not sprouted on most of the trees. My photographs would likely be flat and uninspiring. Still, I pressed on.
My first quest was for Camp Alice on Moose Creek, the source of inspiration for John Voelker’s Lost Atlantis:
Moose Creek is no great shakes to look at, being for the most part narrow and brushy, but the stretch where I usually hit it is a wide shallow stream formed by an ancient inactive beaver dam which backs up water for nearly a mile. . . For years I had been hitting Moose Creek at this very same place — at old Camp Alice — about a half-mile upstream from the old beaver dam.
None of my maps revealed a Moose Creek within 100 miles of Ishpeming, and asking locals about something called Camp Alice was futile at first. My persistence eventually paid off, though, when a sympathetic local offered a lead on Camp Alice. “Da Camp Alice? Sure, I know dat one. She not far from da place where Yawny Smit make wood for da weenter. Look here deez map. I show ya.” Fortunately, my new friend’s advice was accurate. Not only did Johnny Smith make wood for the winter near Camp Alice, it appeared that Johnny Smith now owned Camp Alice. Unfortunately, however, Johnny Smith used some of his wood to make signs, and he used one of those signs to block the road to Camp Alice.
Back to my maps. A logging company owns the land on the opposite side of Moose Creek, and one of my maps revealed a seasonal road ending within a mile of the creek. No gates. But the first day of trout season is usually a week or two before the ‘open’ season for seasonal roads.
Oh well. I planned to return in a few weeks with John Voelker’s grandson Adam Tsaloff. The road should be open by then.
I retreated to Ishpeming for dinner at Congress Pizza, a restaurant and bar that was founded by John Voelker’s dear friend Louis Bonetti. While there I met Louis’ grandson Paul who shared a few stories and several old photographs of his grandfather and the Judge. Night had fallen when I left the restaurant, so finding a makeshift campsite for the night was more of a challenge than I had hoped. I was prepared to sleep in my SUV, and I didn’t need much for a campsite. But I was tired, so, rather than battle the darkness in search of a suitable wilderness location, I drove to Marquette and parked my truck next to an eighteen wheeler, a fifth wheel camper, and a horse trailer in the Walmart parking lot. I wasn’t exactly “out there”, but the bourbon from my old tin cup did seem to taste better. I had had a long day.
About two hours after I fell asleep I was awakened by the sound and lights of another car parking in an adjacent spot. I raised my head slightly and strained my eyes, but, without glasses, my neighbors appeared to be four long-necked people with small elongated heads all seated in the space between the two front seats. With my glasses on, however, I realized that the four long necks were legs, that the bodies attached to those legs were in the back seat, and that the normal sized heads attached to those bodies were likely locked in a passionate pre-mating kiss. Back to sleep. I had had a long day.
I awoke at 5 A.M. to the sound of an electric cart-gathering machine. The truck with eighteen wheels was slowing rolling toward highway 41, and my naughty neighbors were gone. What time does McDonald’s open? I needed breakfast and a place to pee.
© 2011 Timothy Schulz